After nearly seven months of procrastination, the Ministry of Environment has officially decided to continue the vertical expansion project of the Mare-Chicose landfill. A colossal contract of Rs 3,634,999,964 was awarded to the Sotravic Ltée/Strata consortium.

This initiative, widely contested, raises concerns not only among Mauritian environmentalists, but also within the government. Former Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Collendavelloo, a leading figure of the Muvman Liberater (ML), has publicly expressed his reservations about this project. On April 18, 2023, he denounced the expansion as a maneuver aimed at erecting a “skyscraper of waste”, while emphasizing that this waste could be used for energy production. The awarding of this contract of more than Rs 3 billion clearly shows that Ivan Collendavelloo's environmental concerns have been unceremoniously dismissed.

Vertical expansion of landfills has been adopted by several countries around the world. Nations such as the United States, Japan, Germany, and the Netherlands have implemented this practice, which has several implications. This method is often perceived as the simplest in waste management, as it allows for the processing of large quantities of waste without requiring new land. This saves authorities the cost and complications of acquiring new land, which can be both costly and time-consuming, especially when such acquisitions are legally contested.

However, according to several experts, vertical waste management requires specific technical measures to ensure the stability of successive layers of waste and prevent landslides or collapses. Poor management can lead to contamination of soil and groundwater. In addition, the decomposition of waste generates greenhouse gases, such as methane, and these environmental problems are worsened as the height of landfills increases. The Ministry of the Environment acknowledges the complexity surrounding the Mare-Chicose landfill site, stating that it is currently saturated. “Efforts are underway to extend the site over its existing area, with the planned support of a 15-metre by 1.3-km perimeter wall, thus extending its lifespan by 15 years. However, this solution may prove insufficient in the long term if current disposal practices persist. Thus, the government’s priority remains the promotion of resource recovery and the reduction of the flow of waste to the landfill site,” a source argues. According to environmental data, the total amount of solid waste buried in Mare-Chicose increased from 388,000 tonnes in 2012 to 501,000 tonnes in 2021, and is expected to reach around 650,000 tonnes by 2030, an increase of 30%. Furthermore, it was found that the total expenditure on waste management, from collection to disposal, reached Rs 1.8 billion in 2021, compared to Rs 1 billion in 2012. In 2021, solid waste management was estimated at an average cost of Rs 3,500 per tonne. The government is currently banking on the introduction of the circular economy. However, adopting such a practice does not happen overnight and requires at least ten years of preparation before it is fully integrated into a country's environmental practices.

Joanna Bérenger, MP for the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM), who has often raised the situation of Mare-Chicose in Parliament, is very concerned about this decision to engage in a vertical expansion that is not without risk. “According to the geotechnical reports carried out by the consultants to assess the feasibility of this extension, recommendations were made to strengthen the base of the site to rigorous standards in order to withstand the additional pressure that this extension could generate, in order to avoid any collapse. It is their responsibility to inform us that this has been accomplished before continuing the process.

However, a vertical extension is even more dangerous because it increases the risk of liquids and gases accumulating, which can cause explosions and fires,” she warns. She also expresses concerns about one of the companies that manages Mare-Chicose. “In a response to a parliamentary question, we learned that the company that manages Mare-Chicose did not have the necessary equipment to compact the waste before burial. We therefore draw attention to these risks and ask the government not to try to skip safety measures and to put competent companies to monitor this site, because we see warning signs! It must tell us under what conditions this contract was awarded and above all reassure the population about the safety measures in place. And what will happen to this contract that has just been awarded to create “voids”?

She also points out that the solution to relieve Mare-Chicose lies mainly in the segregation of waste at source, composting of waste and of course measures to reduce the amount of waste we produce. “There were some of these solutions in the environmental master plan, but has he implemented them? The process of expanding Mare-Chicose dates back to 2017. Since 2019, a short-term project that he was supposed to carry out was the vertical extension of Mare-Chicose. We are at the end of his mandate and the project is not yet finished,” she notes.

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